Archive for Wednesday, January 15, 2003

County probation program may cut positions

January 15, 2003

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The state's tight budget is hampering job training and supervision for people on probation in Douglas County, a county official said Tuesday.

Ron Stegall, who runs the county's community-corrections department, said he expected to lose a state-funded officer who keeps a close eye on people at risk of having probation revoked. He also reassigned an employee who used to work full-time on helping probationers find jobs.

It costs $2,500 per year to put someone on probation and $20,000 per year to put someone in prison, according to Stegall's figures. He said those numbers made a strong case for the state to give his department more money.

Instead, he's feeling pinched.

"To me, it becomes pretty clear that the long-sighted thing to do would be to shore up things like community corrections," he said at a meeting of the community board that advises his department.

Stegall announced two changes to his department's staffing:

  • The department's surveillance officer -- who pays after-hours visits to "condition violators" who have disobeyed the terms of their probation -- might be a thing of the past.

The job pays about $30,300, which, like most of Stegall's personnel budget, comes from the Kansas Department of Corrections. Stegall said the money most likely wouldn't be there after this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Board member Forrest Swall, a Kansas University assistant professor emeritus of social welfare, asked Stegall if the surveillance job was critical. Stegall said he considered it important because in its absence, his only option was to revoke people's probation and ask that the state put them in prison.

Swall asked if the county might pay for it. Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney, another board member, responded, "The chances of them funding additional staff when they're talking about cutting staff now ... it's not going to happen."

  • An employee who was assigned as a full-time career counselor in the department now spends all his work hours as a supervisory officer. Stegall said he had to make the switch to keep up with a growing case load in a time when he doesn't have money to hire new officers.

On average, the county supervises about 126 offenders per day -- more than 30 people for each of Stegall's four officers. In 1995, the department supervised an average of 71 people per day.

"We can't concentrate, like we used to, on helping them find jobs and keep jobs," he said.

There was more bad budget-related news for the advisory board, which also oversees the county's Youth Services Department. Board members reviewed plans to cut $66,604, or roughly 6 percent, from a variety of youth-oriented Kansas Juvenile Justice Authority grants.

For example, Van Go Mobile Arts had to give back $10,000, money it didn't spend last year for the Jobs in the Arts Make Sense program. Other agencies affected by the cuts include The Shelter Inc., the Douglas County Citizen Review Board and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

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